With these words, in the Broadway musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton … Alexander H, the “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” commits to fight for freedom for the American colonies. Now three U.S. Congressmen are taking their shot, committing to fight for freedom from bureaucratic language for American citizens.
On Friday, March 16, Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA) announced the introduction of the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” Act. The TL;DR Act would direct the Office of Management and Budget to require agencies to place important action items at the beginning of communication with constituents when they are allowed or required to complete an action item. The clearly marked section at the top would include the following pieces of information:
- The action item;
- If a response is required or optional;
- The deadline, if applicable;
- How to complete the action item; and
- The agency’s contact information
Think about it. This Act doesn’t start by talking about short words or short sentences. It captures what plain language is deeply about: Helping a reader to know up front what action to take and how to do it. Even more, listen to what each Congressman has to say about the Act and plain language:
- Representative Moulton: “People seeking assistance from the government should not be tied up in bureaucracy and bogged down with confusing paperwork. It’s past time we simplify the process of dealing with federal agencies and eliminate barriers to things like VA benefits and Medicare. Government bureaucracy should not be standing in the way of people receiving their benefits. This bipartisan effort will make it easier to contact federal agencies and follow through with any action items required. And it will make government more efficient.”
- Representative Meadows: “Any time we can take a step toward making our government more transparent and accountable to the voters, it’s a good day. It’d be difficult to find a better place to start than by making agency guidelines easier to understand and fully digest, so that Americans can get a head start on understanding the rules and regulations for federal benefits they are working with.”
- Representative Loebsack: “Government has a responsibility to provide clear communication to the American people. It should be a top priority. For years folks have been bogged down by bureaucratic gibberish, and it is past time to more clearly communicate with the public. I am pleased to work in a bipartisan fashion to help simplify the way Americans interact with their government. By providing clear and concise information at the top of any correspondence to the public, the federal government is increasing transparency and acting to best serve the American people.”
They said it! It’s what plain language wants to accomplish.
Let’s help them not throw away their shot. In fact, it’s our shot too. Contact Representatives Moulton (202.225.8020), Meadows (202.225.6401), and Loebsack (202.225.6576) to thank them for their efforts. Encourage your own representatives to support the Too Long; Didn’t Read Act. If you don’t know your representative, go here https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
Together, we can all win freedom again.
And if you want to follow the bill’s progress, get started here.
About the Author
Susan Kleimann, Ph.D., is the current Chair of the Center for Plain Language and one of its founding mothers. Through the Center and her own company, Kleimann Communication Group, she’s been fighting for freedom from non-plain language since 1997 officially and her whole life unofficially.